There's a new publishers' audience measurement regime in the UK. Out goes the old National Readership Survey which covered newsbrands and magazines and in comes the Published Audience Measurement Company (PAMCo).
Why should we care? Because the new system promises to measure audience delivery across all publisher platforms. It should give an interesting perspective on how English-speaking audiences consume news across phones, tablets, desktops and on good ole paper.
Fusing online and offline audience measurement is nothing new. Around 16 other countries have some sort of combined online/offline measurement in existence or in the pipeline. The UK has had a version since 2012, but nothing as sophisticated as PAMCo. PAMCo uses 35,000 face-to-face interviews, and tracks the digital news habits of 5,000 of those consumers via a tracker app on all their digital devices. The result is a single de-duplicated view of audiences across all content platforms which is revealing for publishers in all Western, English speaking markets. The first report was issued last Thursday. So what did it tell us?
Well, the most obvious is the rise of the mobile phone as a medium for news content consumption. Mobile phone accounts for 72pc of the total brand reach for the Sun, 70pc for the Mirror, 64pc for the Guardian and 63pc for the Mail. Interestingly, women are more likely to access news via phones, while men are more likely to access newsbrands via print. For example, on a daily basis the phone is The Sun's most important channel for reaching women, but print is its most important channel for reaching men.
Tablets, however, are negligible. Despite Rupert Murdoch's old prediction that they might save newspapers, they are the least important device for consuming news. Some 16pc of the Daily Mail's total brand reach relates to tablet traffic, 15pc for the Telegraph and 13pc for the Guardian.
Tablets were also supposed to save magazines. But that hasn't happened either. Users of iPads and other such devices account for just 13pc of OK magazine's reach. For Hello it's 8pc. BBC Good Food is the monthly magazine with the largest reach; yet only 15pc of its readers use tablets.
But what about poor old paper? Well, according to Professor Neil Thurman, City, University of London and LMU Munich, PAMCo's research also shows that print is still vital to many titles.
"On a daily basis, more than three-quarters of the UK's national and regional newspapers reach more Britons via their print editions than via phones or tablets or PCs, he says. "Day-to-day, print is particularly important to the reach of The Times, the i, the Express, the Daily Star, the Evening Standard, the Metro and most of the regionals. Even on a weekly basis, most (slightly over half) of the UK's national and regional newspapers reach more Britons via their print editions than via phones or tablets or PCs."
Thurman also points out that the multi-platform consumer is a bit of a myth. Newspaper audiences tend to have one favoured method of consumption and they tend to stick to it. "On a daily basis, an average of 98pc of newspapers' readers are consuming any given title via a single platform: print, phone, desktop, or tablet," he says. "On a weekly basis this figure is still 94pc. Even across an entire month, on average, 87pc of newspapers' readers are consuming any given title via a single platform."
PAMCo also found that the reach of publisher content among young audiences is high, with 93pc of 15- to 34-year-olds viewing news content every month. Print even performs well with a young demographic, especially for freesheets like the Metro and Evening Standard.
But there's no doubting that the inexorable rise of the smartphone as a medium for consuming news is the headline from PAMCo's first set of results. But while phones can increase users' access to news, they don't always increase the attention paid to it. According to research published last month in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, readers on mobile devices may spend less time on news sites and be less focused on their content. One of the reports' conclusions was that the attention to news shrinks, as mobile access grows.
Smartphones are now ubiquitous, but they're also agents of distraction, entertainment and, occasionally, information. For news to thrive on these smaller screens it needs to carve out a niche in this new competitive landscape where its rivals aren't other news titles, but Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, and Candy Crush Saga.